Who’s Who in the ABC

Graham Atkins - Chief Executive

The ABC’s Chief Executive is responsible for the development and execution of the association’s strategy, working with the Management Committee and partners. They will also build and run a sustainable organisation that supports members and the industry in the pursuit of their goals.

Graham is a passionate climber, having climbed all over the world and in literally dozens of walls around the UK! He works part time as the ABC’s CEO, and part time as a Partner in a large management consultancy. Earlier in his career he was an Army Officer, and Senior Manager in the public sector. He has a BEng (hons), MBA and is a Fellow of the RSA.

Graham lives in the South West and can be emailed on:


Rich Emerson - ABC Chair

Rich Emerson is one of the Directors and founders of The Climbing Academy (Bristol and Glasgow).  A life long climber he started on Yorkshire grit when he was a youngster and has since climbed and been ski mountaineering all over the world.

In his working life, prior to joining Paul Twomey to set up The Climbing Academy, Rich owned and ran a management training consultancy running training courses for big corporate organisations.  The training company still runs and Rich is a non exec director.

Rich lives in Bristol and can be emailed on:


John Dunne - Management Committee

John is an internationally renowned climber and has established many World class new routes over the last 25 years. He was instrumental in bringing competition climbing to the UK in the late 1980s.

During his long career John has worked with companies as diverse as Adidas, Benetton, Film Nova, Sport England and a host of key outdoor brands in roles ranging from product design, procurement, business development and brand marketing.

In 2005 John set up the Manchester Climbing Centre and has since established major indoor climbing centres in Harrogate and Reading.

John has worked with Sport England on the Sporting Champion scheme and sits as a trustee on the board of the National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme

Dave Douglas - Management Committee

I’ve been a keen climber since my early teens and first started on my school climbing wall just like the majority of climbers these days! After trying my hand at many outdoor sports climbing was a firm favourite and I quickly became involved in helping others at the sport.

After a spell working at Howtown Outdoor Education Centre I left with a climbing qualification and quite unexpectedly started working on a climbing wall in the Dolphin Centre, Darlington. At the time this wall had been rated the 4th best wall in the country!

Move on 25 years and here I am at the helm of Awesome Walls Climbing Centres Ltd with 4 UK walls and 2 in Ireland. My latest creation is Awesome Walls Sheffield that has become the first climbing wall to gain the BMC’s title of ‘National Performance Centre’. With my knowledge of climbing walls I was voted in to the ABC Management Committee in 2013.

Lee Browning - Management Committee

Lee has been managing director at The Boardroom Climbing since 2013 when he set it up. He has been climbing since 2000 and an instructor since 2002.

He has competed at international level in canoeing then moved into outdoor instructing as a job. This has taken him from working and running various outdoor centres around the UK and a bit abroad to working for charities and now managing The Boardroom.

He enjoys all types of climbing and when he gets chance is just as likely to be in Scotland on some ice as in North Wales on a multi-pitch. He has done a little mountaineering in the Alps and further afield and time permitting tends to grab a quick boulder whenever possible.

Tom Vaessen - Management Committee

Climbing, like most of us, hooked me during my mid-teens and ever since then from Sport Climbing in Europe to Traditional Climbing in the Peaks, I have always had a desire to not only be involved in the sport recreationally but also to have a career in it too.

I have been involved in the climbing industry in a professional capacity for the past 14 years. From an instructor, coach and route setter to Centre Manager of Reading Climbing Centre / Head of Health & Safety for the Climbing Centre Group, I have gained a passion and drive for developing the industry in both health and safety procedures and the future progression of the sport through grass roots and advanced coaching.

I have had the privilege of working with a number of highly experienced Technical Advisors and Coaches to help develop my skills in these areas and transfer them into our day to day running at the Climbing Centre Group facilities. Due to my experience in Facilities Management and Health and Safety Procedures, Policies and Guidelines, I was voted into the ABC Management Committee in Sept 2016.

Tom Vaessen

Centre Manager Reading Climbing Centre / Head of Health & Safety Climbing Centre Group


Duncan Howard - Management Committee

Duncan is a relative new comer to the industry, becoming CEO at the Castle Climbing Centre in December 2015, but he has been climbing indoors and out for the past 20 years. As a passionate, if not accomplished climber, Duncan jumped at the chance to run one of the country’s biggest and busiest climbing walls.

His background in Social Housing might not appear at first sight like a good grounding for this industry but Duncan believes the leadership and organisational management skills he learnt delivering good quality, low cost housing in one of the world’s most overheated housing markets will prove useful in dealing with the unprecedented boom in indoor climbing we are now experiencing. Duncan has also been involved in not-for-profit governance positions, currently chairing a Housing Association in North London. He hopes that this experience will also help the ABC develop to meet the challenges of the sector.

Ben Ingle - Head of Membership Services

Ben is the first and (so far) only full-time employee of the Association. Having previously worked for 5 years helping to run a large multi-site climbing wall business he now works to make sure the members of the ABC get value from their membership and to develop the ABC so it can support the professionalism, health and growth of the indoor climbing industry.

A passionate climber for 10 years both indoors and out, Ben is currently exploring the ‘downs’ as well as the ‘ups’ in the form of splitboarding and mountain biking when the weather isn’t so great for rock climbing.

Ben can be emailed on:



Freddie Naish - Management Committee

Details to follow